Advocates for PA school funding change file amicus briefs

The Public Interest Law Center, together with the Education Law Center and O’Melveny & Myers LLP have filed suit on behalf of six school districts, seven parents, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference against legislative leaders, state education officials, and Governor Wolf.

The suit is seeking a court order that will force the legislature to comply with the state constitution and ensure all students receive access to a high-quality public education.

education law center

Seven amicus briefs have been filed in the Pennsylvania school funding case, six of them in
support of petitioners. Below is a description of those six briefs.

Amicus briefs are from individuals or organizations that are not a party to a case but volunteer to advise on a matter before the court. The term is from the Latin phrase “amicus curiae,” which means “friend of the court.”

Amicus briefs will be followed by post-trial briefing on legal issues from both parties, with the final brief due July 15, 2022. Commonwealth Court will hold oral argument on the legal issues on July 26, 2022, at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 3001 of the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg. The court’s decision could come several months after the July 26 oral argument.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro
Theme: The General Assembly is failing its constitutional responsibility to fund a public education system that provides all students with a comprehensive, effective, and contemporary education

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the state’s top law enforcement officer, contends that the
Pennsylvania Constitution mandates that all students have access to a high-quality public
education, and that Pennsylvania’s current school funding system fails to meet that standard.
Shapiro’s amicus brief focuses on the deep history of the state Constitution to make clear that
petitioners’ reading of the Constitution is the right one: all children in Pennsylvania are entitled
to a “comprehensive, effective, and contemporary public school education,” not just the
“opportunity” to attend public schools.


Read the brief here.

Quote from the brief: “Despite the best efforts of the Commonwealth’s dedicated teachers and
administrators, many Pennsylvania schools are not able to provide the level of education required
by the Constitution — not for lack of trying, but for lack of adequate funding. The consequences
— students who lack proficiency in core subjects and the tools for success in life and career —
rest at the feet of the legislature.

“This case is of utmost importance to the Commonwealth. The Court’s decision may determine the future of public education in Pennsylvania, and consequently, the strength of our economy, government, and community for generations to come. The Court should find that the Education Clause requires the General Assembly to provide all Pennsylvania children with a comprehensive, effective, and contemporary public education and rule in favor of Petitioners.”

Constitutional Law Professors
Theme: Education is a fundamental right

Five constitutional law professors from across Pennsylvania argue that students have a
fundamental right to a meaningful education under Pennsylvania’s Constitution. Reviewing
cases from other states, the professors find that courts across the country have recognized that
education is a fundamental right, a critical foundation for individual success, and essential to the functioning of democracy. Disparities in the ability to exercise the fundamental right to a
meaningful education—like the deep wealth-based disparities in educational opportunity that
exist in Pennsylvania—must be subject to strict scrutiny from courts. Pennsylvania’s school
funding system, they conclude, likely violates the right to equal protection under the law for
students in low-wealth school districts.

Read the brief here.

Quote from the brief: “The overwhelming thrust of that caselaw is that a school funding
scheme that relies heavily on the wealth of the local school district to determine the funding
available to educate schoolchildren implicates fundamental rights; that a grossly inadequate level of funding available to many school districts to provide the level of education that every child
deserves and that the constitution demands is constitutionally suspect; and that equal protection
challenges to such schemes need to be examined through a strict scrutiny lens.”

Amici (titles and affiliations for identification purposes only):

• David S. Cohen, Professor of Law, Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law
• Gary S. Gildin, Dean Emeritus & Professor of Law, Dickinson School of Law, Penn State
University
• Seth F. Kreimer, Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School
• Jules Lobel, Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh School of Law
• Robert J. Reinstein, Professor of Law Emeritus, Temple University Beasley School of
Law

Child-Serving and Education Organizations

Theme: Students in Pennsylvania’s low-wealth districts require targeted programs to receive an
adequate constitutional education.

Twenty-one child-serving and education organizations argue in a joint brief that students in low-wealth districts impacted by poverty urgently require additional targeted programs and services to receive an adequate education, and that increased school funding will improve their academic and life outcomes. They argue that children of color are concentrated in these districts, and under-funding compounds the effects of systemic racism on Black and Latino students. These unacceptable disparities can be mitigated with more equitable education funding by the state.
Read the brief here.
Quote from the brief: “[A] growing body of research shows a strong association between
increased spending on educational resources and improving student achievement. Courts in
several other states have also regularly ordered the type of relief sought in this lawsuit in order to
fulfill similar constitutional obligations to provide an adequate education to all children. Courts
from a long list of states—including New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina,
South Carolina, Kansas, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Washington—have recognized that highneeds districts in their respective states must be provided with a range of additional resources to
provide an adequate education to at-risk students in accordance with state constitutional mandates.
The amici here urge the Court to follow this precedent to address the longstanding and compelling need to increase funding and resources for the education of the Commonwealth’s at-risk students.”

Amici:

• ACLAMO
• Allies for Children
• The Arc of Philadelphia
• Asian Americans United
• Children First
• Disability Rights Pennsylvania
• Education Law Center (based in New Jersey; unaffiliated with Education Law Center-PA)
• Education Voters of Pennsylvania
• Juvenile Law Center
• Make the Road Pennsylvania
• Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners
• PA Budget and Policy Center
• People’s Emergency Center
• Philadelphia Family Voices
• Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower & Rebuild, dba POWER Interfaith
• Philadelphia Student Union
• Support Center for Child Advocates
• Teach Plus Pennsylvania
• Turning Points for Children
• VietLead
• Youth United for Change

Pennsylvania Organizations, Businesses, and Educators from Institutions of Higher Learning
Theme: The importance of ensuring that all students in Pennsylvania graduate “college and career ready”

A group of 17 Pennsylvania organizations, businesses, and educators from institutions of higher learning argue that the state must do more to meet its own college and career ready standard, especially for students who are economically disadvantaged. They argue that a pipeline of highly educated students is necessary for the health of Pennsylvania businesses – even more so in a rapidly evolving economy. Adequate funding for public education is vital to the success of postsecondary institutions as well. The state’s college and career ready standard aims to ensure that every student is prepared to “productively enter the workforce or flourish at institutions of higher learning based on their own choice and aspirations and not where in the Commonwealth they grew up or which school they attended.” Read the brief here.
Quote from the brief: “Some of us represent organizations that see up close the central role our schools play in strengthening our communities and our democracy. Some of us are
businesspeople who understand that the Commonwealth’s businesses need employees who possess the important skills prioritized in the college and career ready standard to be successful in our increasingly competitive economy. Some of us work with Pennsylvania’s institutions of higher learning and likewise recognize how vital it is—for both the students and our institutions—to ensure that students receive a high-quality elementary and secondary education before continuing their studies. What brings us together is the belief that ensuring adequate funding for Pennsylvania’s schools is critical to achieving all of these (and many other) goals.”

Amici (academic affiliations for identification purposes only):

• African American Chamber of Commerce
• American Association of University Women PA
• Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership
• Erie Center for Arts & Technology
• Pan Asian Association of Greater Philadelphia
• Urban League of Philadelphia
• Parker Philips
• Earle Enterprises, LP
• TreCom Systems Group
• League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania
• Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh
• Alice M. Drum, Ph.D., Franklin & Marshall College
• Barbara Ferman, Temple University
• Sean Flaherty, Franklin & Marshall College
• Theresa Glennon, Temple University Beasley School of Law
• Akira Drake Rodriguez, University of Pennsylvania, Weitzman School of Design
• Megan Wolleben, Bucknell University

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers/American Federation of Teachers
Theme: Education is a fundamental right

Unions representing teachers in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, and across the country argue that
education is a fundamental right under Pennsylvania’s state Constitution. Reviewing the history of educational provisions in all iterations of Pennsylvania’s Constitution, they find that education has been recognized as essential to the functioning of democracy since the commonwealth’s founding. They quote Benjamin Franklin, a framer of Pennsylvania’s 1776 Constitution, writing in 1749: “The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Commonwealths.” Based on records from the 1873 Constitutional Convention, they argue that the duty to provide a “thorough and efficient” education was always understood to impose “constitutional injunctions” on the state legislature to ensure that all children, rich and poor, received necessary instruction—and that education was not simply one of many services provided by the state. Read the brief here.
Quote from the brief: “The failure of the Commonwealth to ensure that fundamental right is protected has resulted in thousands of school children in rural and urban school districts to
receive funding so insufficient that it undermines the quality of the education they receive, the
textbook and library resources available, and the safety of the school facilities themselves.”

Amici:

• Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
• The American Federation of Teachers, Pennsylvania
• The American Federation of Teachers

Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA)
Theme: Students attending low-income school districts have fewer teachers and educational
support professionals available to them than those in wealthier districts.

PSEA represents over 177,000 members, most of whom are employees of Pennsylvania school
districts. Their analysis of state data found that lowwealth school districts “have fewer human,
in-person resources available to them” than students in more affluent districts, including fewer
teachers and educational support professionals. Their analysis also disclosed that more teachers
are teaching outside their areas of certification in low-wealth districts, and educators are paid
less, making it harder for those districts to attract and retain professional staff. The differences in
resources have direct consequences in student performance. PSEA presents data showing that
high-income districts spend more and have higher test scores than low-income districts. And
students who are poor, disabled, or English learners have a greater chance of academic success if they are educated in a high-wealth district. Read the brief here.
Quote from the brief: “PSEA believes the quality and quantity of human educational resources
available to teach and support students is the most significant determiner of educational
outcomes. The data shows a significant disparity in the human educational resources available to
the students of low-wealth school districts, whether viewed in absolute terms or in comparison to wealthier districts. Unfortunately, and despite the truly heroic efforts of the staff in low-wealth school districts, the data also confirms that an outsized percentage of the students in low wealth districts continue to perform below average on state approved and mandated assessment tools, significantly worse than their peers who are fortunate enough to attend higher wealth districts.
“Until low-wealth school districts can afford to provide the human educational resources that are
routinely available in wealthier districts, the General Assembly has failed its constitutional duty to maintain and support a thorough and efficient system of public education in this
Commonwealth.”

Learn more about the case at FundOurSchoolsPA.org.

The Public Interest Law Center uses high-impact legal strategies to advance the civil, social, and economic rights of communities in the Philadelphia region facing discrimination, inequality, and poverty. We use litigation, community education, advocacy, and organizing to secure their access to fundamental resources and services in the areas of public education, housing, health care, employment, environmental justice and voting. For more information, visit www.pubintlaw.org or follow on Twitter @PubIntLawCtr.

The Education Law Center-PA (ELC) is a nonprofit, legal advocacy organization with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, dedicated to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education. Through legal representation, impact litigation, community engagement, and policy advocacy, ELC advances the rights of underserved children, including children living in poverty, children of color, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, English learners, LGBTQ students, and children experiencing homelessness. For more information, visit elc-pa.org or @edlawcenterpa on Twitter.

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